Cult Fiction? New religious sect suspected of coercion in Oxford

Oxford Student, University of Oxford/January 24, 2002
By Amanda Plimmer

A new Religious movement operating in Oxford is suspected of being a dangerous cult. The International Church of Christ (ICoC) is the world's fastest growing religious movement. There is concern that the group, which holds meetings in a number of the city's community centers, is now actively recruiting Oxford students. James Rowlands, OUSU Welfare Officer, claims that "at least one individual has been approached by a member of the ICoC in a forceful and persistent manner." Considering itself to be the only authentic church, the ICoC considers every other Christian organization as a "watered-down, ineffective imitation."

The group was set up in 1979 and now has over 185,000 members worldwide. Its teachings are based upon the Bible; however a cult is not defined by its beliefs or doctrines but by its tactics in recruiting and holding members.

Cult Watch director, Mark Vrankovich, explains their subtle methods: "They approach people in the streets, supermarkets and on campuses. They invite people to sports events, parties, church services and even free movies."

New recruits undergo a honeymoon period, called "love bombing" in which they are showered with attention and assigned a "discipler." Once a member, they are required to attend six hours of meetings per week, in addition to informal gatherings and study groups. A former follower recalls that they spent 30-40 hours a week on mandatory church activities. Everyone, even if a student, is required to make weekly donations, usually a minimum 10% of their income, and a large annual contribution.

REVEAL, a support group for ex-followers, accuses the ICoC of "lying to and manipulating its own members and outsiders in order to further its own ends."

Another organization, 'Triumphing Over London Cults', accuses the ICoC of exercising control over its members using psychological techniques to remold their personalities. Such mind control bypasses a person's intelligence and critical thinking skills, making anyone vulnerable. University students are prime targets. Ian Haworth, of the Cult Information Centre, alleges that "they look for people who are intelligent, idealistic and intellectually and spiritually curious." Some universities, including Birmingham, have banned the ICoC, but if Oxford were to do this it might contravene its policy of freedom of speech.

The Chaplain of an Oxford college told the Oxford Student that "should anyone decide to accept an invitation to a meeting, they should think very carefully before disclosing their contact details."

The ICoC deny that they are a cult in the negative sense of the word, but argue that "if the charge is the same that was leveled against the early church, then we are glad to be identified with them."

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